by Emily Murphy (Instagram). She is a student in the Political Science Honors and Islamic Civilizations and Societies Departments at Boston College, as well as a Research Fellow for the Political Science Department.
In mid-January, Israel and the United States were finalizing a 10-year “memorandum of understanding on defense ties“. The memorandum passed under the radar of most news agencies, but underlines the ongoing interconnectedness of the United States and Israel. While it serves as a way for the United States to subsidize its own industries — giving Israel money to buy US arms — the provision of advanced technology to Israel also paints counterterrorism as a global affair. Israel remains the United States’ most important partner in counterterrorism in the Middle East. The two have a long history of intelligence collaboration, and the United States has even given Israel information on American citizens. Israel’s need for American support has rapidly become apparent.
Israel stands out in the Middle East for a variety of reasons, but its most famous conflict is that between Israel and the Palestinian territories (Palestine). Most Israeli counterterrorism efforts have historically centered around the Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands. The conflict caused by Israel’s occupation of those lands, as pointed out in Daphne Barak-Erez’s book, “Israel’s anti-terrorism law: Past, present and future“, makes counterterrorism extremely difficult in Israel because, “when Israel counters terrorist threats from these territories, the relevant laws are not Israel’s domestic legislation but rather, in most cases, international law — the rules applicable to occupied territories — or, at any rate, to armed conflicts.” The constraints of international law present Israel with a competition between domestic and international obligations, a two-level game, for almost any counterterrorism effort.This competition consistent in the judicial review of counterterrorism actions taken by Israel, whether they occurred in the Israeli Supreme Court or in the institutions of the United Nations, such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ); for example, the ICJ has declared one Israeli counterterrorism project illegal. Theoretically, Israel can ignore international law and act solely in consideration of its domestic pressures. Despite several UN resolutions against Israel, including from the Security Council, Israel has continued to flout them. As Wendy Pearlman notes in a 2008 International Security article, most models of conflict resolution and foreign policy “underestimate the relevance of domestic politics [… they assume] that internal politics are only one of several constraints on actors’ attempts to advance their ultimate objective, not a driving motivation that may supplant it.” This presents severe intrastate challenges to negotiations in Israel.
Moreover, Israel’s overall objective in policy formulation is to maintain a high level of state security, for which it relies significantly on the United States. Israel is therefore more compelled (compared to more independently-secured states) to adhere to international pressures with regard to its counterterrorism policies. Barak-Erez points out that “the central role Israel plays in developing and challenging traditional international law in the area of confronting terrorism.” Israel is one of the most integral states in the worldwide security regime working toward counterterrorism and will continue to be so because of its strategic location in the Middle East and importance to the West.
Israel’s relationships with its neighbors may also be noted. Egypt recently informed worldwide media outlets that it had closed twenty more tunnels between it and the Gaza strip, with reports of Palestinian deaths coming out the next day. As the state that gave birth to Nasserism and pan-Arabism, it is somewhat surprising to see Egypt acting directly against Palestinians, who are considered by many pan-Arabists at the heart of the Arab cause. Though Egypt has its own, independent reasons to oppose Hamas, Egypt and Israel have been quietly working together to besiege the Gaza Strip.
However, control of the Gaza Strip has been held by Hamas, which is widely considered to be a terrorist organization, especially by Israel. Yusuf al-Maqid, a Palestinian journalist, explained in an interview with the author the ways in which Hamas has been affected by international cooperative security counterterrorism efforts:
America, Canada, and Japan put Hamas on the list of terrorist organizations. America uses its global strength to control and punish the press, threatening everyone who deals with Hamas. American control of the international financial system prohibits international, Arab, and Palestinian banks from dealing with Hamas and prohibits any weapons company from supplying it […] When Hamas won elections and entered power in a democratic way, the countries of the world refused to deal with it. The International Quartet [referring to the “Middle East Quartet“, composed of the United Nations, United States, European Union, and Russia] imposed conditions on Hamas to work with the international community: recognize the legitimacy of Israel and renounce terrorism. If Hamas refused to recognize these conditions, its government would lose international aid.
Maqid’s explanation demonstrates the globalization of counterterrorism cooperation. It also shows the depth of Israel’s influence in the “international community”. The terms imposed on Hamas are not likely to be supported by many anti-Western Arab political parties. Yet, Egypt considers Hamas enough of a threat to warrant ignoring any identity-based pressures in order to work in the worldwide cooperative security regime.
In international counterterrorism, it is rare that any state acts alone. Yet the dominance of Israel and the United States as the central actors in the “international community” ought not to be ignored.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might meet in Washington next month and complete a deal on future defense aid to Israel that has been dogged by disagreement, the U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro said on Thursday, February 11, 2016. Netanyahu is widely expected to attend the March 20-22 policy conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC in Washington. One Israeli official said Netanyahu hopes for a new MOU worth $4 billion annually, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in additional congressional funding for specific defense projects. The Israelis say they need a big increase in U.S. defense aid to offset the windfall their arch-enemy, Iran, expects after international sanctions are lifted. Israel also wants to preserve its military edge over Arab neighbors that have raised their defense spending, often to address their own concerns about growing Iranian power. (“Obama, Netanyahu May Agree Defense Deal in Washington Next Month, Envoy Says“, Breitbart, 12.02.2016).